A MAJOR drive to stop children going into care across Worcestershire is kicking off - amid hopes a shock 22 per cent rise can be slowed down.

Worcestershire County Council has agreed a new strategy aimed at stopping the numbers of looked-after children soaring.

As your Worcester News revealed back in May, over the last five years it has rocketed 22 per cent to more than 600, putting massive pressures on the council's budget.

The Conservative leadership has already agreed to pump an extra £3.5 million into the fund, taking it to £25.7 million, and has now endorsed a new blueprint to reduce the numbers.

The strategy, which runs to 2017, includes:

- Around £332,000 will go on recruiting 20 new suitable foster carers

- A target has been set for reducing initial referral rates from 3,163 per year to 2,700 during that period

- The number of emergency care placements, currently running at 178 per year, is targeted to drop to 133

- A 15 per cent reduction in the average number of weeks children are in care

- Making sure at least 60 per cent of children who leave the care system are in the education system, or if they are turning into adults some kind of training or employment; at the moment this is around 40 per cent

The council is aiming to bring the numbers down by being better at early intervention - targeting resources on measures to help struggling families turn their lives around.

A report on it says some children "stay looked-after longer than they should" because the right adopters cannot be found, or efforts to reunify them with their families are not intense enough.

It says being in care "isn't in children's best interests" and that fresh efforts are needed.

It follows a forecast that if Worcestershire's trends continue, by 2022 it could have 985 children in care.

The overall cost of children's social care in the county, including fostering, adoption and placements is £44 million.

Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader said: "The children that we have in our care are the most vulnerable in Worcestershire, this is very important."